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With Hate Crimes Against Asians In America Rising, South Coast Woman Remembers Being One Of 120,000 People Sent To Internment Camps During World War II

(National Park Service photo)
One of the U.S. Government's internment camps for people of Japanese descent during World War II

Now 92-year-old Ventura woman spent more than three years in camps just because of Japanese ancestry

There’s been a lot of concern in recent months about racist, unprovoked attacks on Asian Americans. In Ventura County, there haven't been a rash of hate crimes like in some other parts of the country. But, for some it also brings back memories of World War II, when thousands of men, women and children of Japanese descent were shipped to detention camps just because some questioned their loyalty.

It was nearly eight decades ago when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II.

It also opened the door to the forced relocation of more than 120,000 Japanese, and Japanese Americans living in the United States, as fear led to the trampling of their civil rights. They were moved to isolated internment camps, with men, women and children living in barracks under armed guard

Ruth Marukoa of Ventura was just a 14-year-old girl, living near Sacramento with her family. She says many local stores put up signs, saying Japanese-Americans were banned.

The now 92-year-old woman says they soon found themselves headed to a relocation camp. With little notice, they packed some personal items and were taken by truck, and then train to a temporary camp in Fresno.

After that, the family was shipped to a huge camp in the deep South. It was huge., some 50 blocks long, with Army barrack style buildings, surrounded by barbed wire. It was home to some 8,000 people.

She admits it was scary at times, but that their parents gave them stability during the time.

Marukoa says she, and her family knew that what was in effect government sponsored racism was wrong, but tried to take it in stride. They tried to make the best of the situation.

Her family lived there for more than two years. They lost their home, and most of their possessions. It was tough for her parent, because they were farmers with ten kids. But, they started over.

The government later apologized, and paid reparations to those still living, but it hardly compensated for the trauma of the experience.

Marukoa says she’s saddened about the recent incidents targeting Asian-Americans. But, she says she’s not living in fear.

Her grandson, Jonathan Stanley, who lives with her says he feels Ventura County is relatively safe. But, when his grandmother goes for a walk, he goes with her, to make sure will be okay. The 24-year-old says he isn’t taking chances.

Stanley says after she lived through the internment camps, it’s sad that her family now has to be concerned about her safety eight decades later just because of her race.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.